Set in Nicaragua in 1984, The Stars at Noon is a story of passion, fear, and betrayal told in the voice of an American woman whose mission in Central America is as shadowy as her surroundings. Is she a reporter for an American magazine as she sometimes claims, or a contact person for Eyes of Peace? And who is the rough English businessman with whom she becomes involved? As the two foreigners become entangled in increasingly sinister plots, Denis Johnson masterfully dramatizes a powerful vision of spiritual bereavement and corruption.
About the Author
Denis Johnson is the author of The Name of the World, Already Dead, Jesus' Son, Resuscitation of a Hanged Man, Fiskadoro, The Stars at Noon, and Angels. His poetry has been collected in the volume The Throne of the Third Heaven of the Nations Millennium General Assembly. He is the recipient of a Lannan Fellowship and a Whiting Writer's Award, among many other honors for his work. He lives in northern Idaho.
Read an Excerpt
The air was getting thick -- if you like calling a garotte of diesel and greasy dirt "air" -- and so before the burning rain began I stepped into the McDonald's. But right away I caught sight of the grotesque troublemaker, the pitiful little fat person whose name was forever escaping me, Subtenente Whoever from Interpren, getting out of his black Czechoslovakian Skoda and standing there on the dark street with my fate in his bands . . . If I didn't go to bed with him again soon, he was going to lift my card.
I hoped it wasn't me he was waving at, but I was the only customer in the place. I've always been the only patron in the McDonald's here in this hated city, because with the meat shortage you wouldn't ever know absolutely, would you, what sort of a thing they were handing you in the guise of beef. But I don't care, actually, what I eat. I just want to lean on that characteristic McDonald's counter while they fail, to take my order and read the eleven certifying documents on the wall above the broken ice-cream box, nine of them with the double-arch McDonald's symbol and the two most recent stamped with the encircled triangle and offering the pointless endorsement of the junta Local de Asistancia Social de Nicaragua . . . It's the only Communist-run McDonald's ever. It's the only McDonald's where you have to give back your plastic cup so it can be washed out and used again, the only McDonald's staffed by people wearing military fatigues and carrying submachine guns.
I let go of my supper plans and beaded for the ladies' room in the hallway leading to the kitchen.
The two soldiers leaning against the drinking fountainlooked between me and the approaching Sub-tenente with slow eyes that said they understood what was happening and were completely bored by it.
I thought I'd wait him out in the ladies' room, doing nothing, only sweating-needless to say, I wouldn't go so far in such an environment as actually to raise my skirts and pee; and the walls were too damp to hold graffiti . . . I was sure the Sub-tenente hadn't got a good enough look to say it was me --
He came around anyway and stood outside the door and coughed.
I turned on the faucet, but it didn't work.
"Senorita," Sub-tenente Whoever said.
I tried the toilet, which flushed but didn't refill . . . just the same, the sight of a more or less genuine commode, with a handle and a cover-and-seat, functioning or not ... Nothing fancy, but a lot of the lavatories down here don't have toilets, that is, the room itself is designed to be one monstrous toilet, with water running down the walls and gradually, over the course of days, influencing substances toward tiny plugged-up drains in the comers.
The Sub-tenente knocked on my door now. This seemed, all by itself, a slimy presumption. He cleared his throat ... Costa Rica was just across the border. But they would never let me out of this country.
"Senorita," he said through the door, "may you tell to me if you are intending to remain very long?"
I looked for toilet paper, but there wasn't any toilet paper and there never would be toilet paper -- south of here they were having a party with streamers of the stuff, miles and miles of toilet paper, but here in the hyper-new, all -- leftist future coming at us at the rate of rock-n-roll there was just a lot of nothing, no more wiping your bum, no more Coca-Cola, no beans or rice: except for me they got no more shiny pants, no more spiked heels. No unslakeable thirst! No kissing while dancing! No whores! No meat! No milk! South of here was Paradise, average daily temperature 71 degrees Fahrenheit, the light sad and harmless, virgins eating ice-cream cones walking up and down
"Senorita, if possible I will wait for you . .
Still I thought I could hold out a few seconds longer, hugging the wall -- drugged, like a little kid, by the taste of my own tears on my lips ...
"Senorita. Senorita. Senorita," said the Sub-tenente.
He said something to the soldiers outside and everybody laughed.
"Si. Si. Si," I said. I opened the door. "Sub-tenente Verga!" -- which wasn't his name, but "verga" means prick -- "It's so good to see you again!"
I didn't think this would take long . . . And it didn't ...
We were doing it on the couch tonight: it was either that or the rug . . . His clothes, civilian clothes, lay in a heap beside mine -- I'd never seen Sub-tenente Whoever in uniform. He was a spy, or something like that. I believe anybody who thought about it would have said he affected the goat-like Lenin look, but in truth his features were unshaped, they seemed to be materializing out of a bright fog, nothing more than a shining blank with shadows floating on it ... Even as he coasted back and forth above me with the lamp behind him, the oval of his face gave out a mysterious light, like the exit from a tunnel . . . "Are you looking at me," I asked him softly, but he was sighing and hiccuping too loudly to hear. I hoped he wouldn't go on long enough to make me sore. I started to worry that maybe I was too thin for him, it's a fact that I'm always either too fat or too skinny, I can't seem to locate the mid-point. Not that the pleasure and comfort of an incompetent small-time official in a floundering greasy banana regime surmounts my every concern, but all men tend to grow innocent, wouldn't you agree, at the breast ... You can't help feeling a little something, if only a small sharp pity, as if you'd just stepped on a baby bird. The bird was going to die anyway, you only shortened its brainless misery . . . "Are you coming? Are you coming?" I was speaking Englisb. He probably didn't know what I was talking about ...
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
The Stars at Noon appears to be one of DJ's least read works, and that is a shame. DJ is a very masculine writer, so his use of a female voice takes some getting used to. But once I settled in, I found this tale of the political and moral confusion of a female American journalist and an English executive in Sandinista-era Nicaragua extremely compelling. There is a strong resemblance to Graham Greene's spy stories, but with a harsher edge.